Less than a week after the conviction of Bill Cosby on three counts of sexual assault, the #TimesUp movement has moved on to its next target. This time, the battle for justice involves a Chicago-born rapper who has been accused of sexual assault, sex with a minor, child pornography and more: Robert Sylvester Kelly—or, as he’s known in the music world, R. Kelly.
In a statement on #Time’s Up Instagram, the movement’s leaders call on Ticketmaster, Spotify, Apple, and others to drop R. Kelly as an artist, pasting a rallying cry that’s previously circulated on the Internet: #MuteRKelly.
We join the call to #MuteRKelly and insist on the safety + dignity of all women. We demand investigations into R. Kelly’s abuse allegations made by women of color + their families for two decades. We call on those who profit from his music to cut ties. #MuteRKelly #TIMESUP #WOC pic.twitter.com/TYmDRVIH00
— Ava DuVernay (@ava) April 30, 2018
The statement, published Monday, made #MuteRKelly one of the top trending hashtags on Twitter, boosted by help from celebrities like Ava DuVernay and Shonda Rhimes. But what exactly is this movement — and what’s the context behind it? As #MuteRKelly gains steam, here’s what you need to know.
Allegations of sexual misconduct have been swirling around R. Kelly for decades.
The first to uncover sexual assault allegations connected to R. Kelly was Jim DeRogatis, a reporter from the Chicago Sun Times. His bombshell piece, “R. Kelly accused of sex with teenage girls,” was originally published on Dec. 21, 2000. In it, DeRogatis uncovers court documents and interviews showing that the rapper, then 34, had engaged in sex with girls as young as 15. DeRogatis also touched on the artist’s brief 1994 marriage to singer Aaliyah, who herself was just 15 at the time.
In an interview with Vox last July about his role in exposing the artist’s sexual misconduct, DeRogatis revealed the impetus for his investigation: an anonymous fax. The fax mentioned a piece in which DeRogatis compared R. Kelly to Marvin Gaye, then stated: “Well, I guess Marvin Gaye had problems too, but I don’t think they were like Robert’s… Robert’s problem is young girls…”
In 2013, DeRogatis gave an even more troubling interview in the Village Voice in which he revealed that his continued investigation had led to dozens more accounts of underage sex — and videotapes of it.
During an interview with the Village Voice’s Jessica Hopper, DeRogatis revealed mountains of research he had done uncovering more allegations against R. Kelly. The sickening accounts of the rapper’s sexual exploits with young women included not only videotape proof, but new allegations that the rapper had created (and traded) child pornography. When asked why no one else — in the face of such heinous evidence — had taken up the fight, DeRogatis offered a sobering quote: “The saddest fact I’ve learned is nobody matters less to our society than young black women. Nobody.”
— AM to DM by BuzzFeed News (@AM2DM) March 29, 2018
After yet another report from DeRogatis (this one alleging R. Kelly had created a “cult” of young girls), two activists decided to launch a crusade to stop the singer, naming it #MuteRKelly.
Although it has recently gained momentum on the Internet, the #MuteRKelly hashtag has been around for some time. The hashtag itself was started by two activists: Oronike Odeleye, executive director of an art collective, and Kenyette Tisha Barnes, director of policy and legislation at the Georgia Alliance for Social Justice. While both women were motivated by the fact that Kelly’s victims were exclusively young women of color, Barnes herself is also a survivor of child pornography (which happened at the hands of a photographer while she was a child model).
The two created the hashtag, and ultimately a petition, aimed at getting R. Kelly’s shows canceled nationwide. By January, according to an interview with Vibe, their work spreading the word had led to the cancellation of eight concerts nationwide. The petition they created not only calls on Live Nation to drop his tour, but Sony, his management company, to drop his recording contract. By Tuesday afternoon, after the resurgence of the hashtag, the petition had 66,000 signatures, very close to its goal of 70,000. “R&B singer R. Kelly has preyed on teenage girls for the past 25 years,” the petition reads. “It’s time our society stops his cycle of abuse.”
#TimesUp involvement in the #MuteRKelly fight is giving it new urgency.
On Monday, the #TimesUp organization—both a movement and a legal defense fund — released a pointed statement that both outlines the allegations against R. Kelly and lays out what the group is now demanding. “Together, we call on the following corporations and venues with ties to R. Kelly to join us and insist on safety and dignity for women of all kinds,” it reads, before listing RCA Records, Ticketmaster, Spotify, and Apple Music. The statement’s last call out is to Greensboro Coliseum Complex, a venue set to host the singer’s next concert on May 11.
R. Kelly’s team has routinely disavowed any allegations against him — and the present moment is no exception.
As after previous reports, R. Kelly’s representatives have vehemently denied the allegations against him, and condemned the campaign against him. Their comments come in the form of a lengthy statement sent to Buzzfeed News, in which they call the allegations “unjust” and “off-target.” In 2008, R. Kelly was acquitted at trial on 14 charges involving child pornography.
R. Kelly’s team responds to #MuteRKelly: “R. Kelly supports the pro-women goals of the Time’s Up movement. We understand criticizing a famous artist is a good way to draw attention to those goals … we will vigorously resist this attempted public lynching of a black man” pic.twitter.com/ByC9SR0vtD
— BuzzFeed News (@BuzzFeedNews) April 30, 2018
#TimesUp, for one, seems unwilling to back down — determined to deliver justice to women of color, a population that the #MeToo movement has been accused of overlooking
A large part of the statement #TimesUp made, and of the crusade against R. Kelly himself, is an effort to stand up for overlooked victims in the #MeToo era: namely, women of color. “The scars of history make certain that we are not interested in persecuting anyone without just cause. With that said, we demand appropriate investigations and inquiries into the allegations of R. Kelly’s abuse made by women of color and their families for over two decades now,” #TimesUp’s statement reads. “And we declare with great vigilance and a united voice to anyone who wants to silence us: Their time is up.”
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